ALLY McCoist believes today’s pivotal Championship showdown with Hearts at Tynecastle is the most significant fixture Rangers have faced since they began life outside the top tier of Scottish football.
Hearts can open a nine-point lead over McCoist’s team at the top of the table with a victory, a result which would place obvious pressure on the Rangers manager and diminish the Ibrox club’s prospects of securing automatic promotion to the Premiership this season.
“It’s certainly the biggest game we’ve played in a long, long time,” said McCoist. “It’s probably the biggest league game since we started the road back, to be honest. For the first two seasons, a lot of people felt we were always going to win the league, even if there was the odd hiccup along the way.
“Now we are in a vastly- improved league with better teams and we are facing challenges every week. The main thing is that we want to win the game to get the deficit back to three points, so it’s as big a league game as we’ve played in the last two or three years.
“I wouldn’t say we can’t afford to lose it, but I’m not thinking about losing it. We are 100 per cent focused on being positive. If we lose, the league’s not over but defeat is not something we are contemplating. We are not even nearly halfway through the campaign, so there are miles of football still to go.”
Hearts have been installed as favourites by the bookmakers to win this afternoon and complete a double over Rangers, having triumphed 2-1 at Ibrox on the opening day of the season. But, while McCoist is appreciative of the impressive league form shown by Hearts so far, he insists there is nothing for his players to fear.
“Being written off fires me up and I don’t have any doubt it fires the players up as well,” added McCoist. “Hearts are on a good roll and we respect that. We have already played them this season, losing a game at Ibrox which we should never have lost.
“There’s nothing Hearts have done since that terrifies us. We feel that, if we play to our capabilities, we have enough to win the game.”
McCoist’s comments followed Ibrox defender Darren McGregor asking last week if the Tynecastle side would be able to withstand the pressure if Rangers closed the gap on them. Previously Rangers striker Kenny Miller, among others, has also suggested that Hearts, who are still unbeaten in the Championship, might lack the resilience needed to go all the way.
But Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson and winger Billy King have insisted they are untroubled by what appears to be a concerted propaganda campaign by Rangers to question their mental strength.
King, who is expected to start against Rangers in today’s lunchtime kick-off, said: “Rangers questioned our bottle last week, but they drew at home to Alloa and we got three points at Falkirk, so that was a big statement from us. I don’t listen to anything that’s coming out of Ibrox. We just concentrate on winning the games and trying to do our talking on the park.”
Neilson, who could be without captain Danny Wilson and striker Osman Sow for the game, agreed with King that actions speak louder than words. “It’s up to them what they say, to be honest with you,” he said. “Mind games is something that, if they want to play, it’s up to them. We’ll just continue doing what we’re doing every Saturday.
“I think we’ve shown consistently, week in week out, that we can handle different types of games. Yeah, there’s going to be a dip in form but, hopefully, it’ll be a short period and we get through it then continue to win games. You can talk all you want. You can talk and talk in papers or on TV and say this and that, but at the end of the day it gets done on a Saturday.”